Disclaimer: I'm putting this part up first; I'll talk about some of my
motivations in the next chapters. I was going to say the Bible doesn't belong
to me, and then I decided it was semantically problematic. I have $700 worth of
art criticism books, a bottle of Vicodin, and a t-shirt with the complete text
of "Twelfth Night," in case God or Moses wants to sue. It might help to read
Genesis 13-19, which is the inclusive discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah; I use
the KJV as my reference, although I cross checked with the NIV on some verses.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

You do not know my name. Perhaps it is best; you would not recognize it as one
of your own, I do not think. Nor have I kept it; it belongs to a place of
obliteration and a time long ago.

But you have stolen even my town's name. Sodom. I say the word, feel it heavy
on my tongue like the smoke and ashes that filled my nose and throat that day.
The burned place. As if that was all we ever were. And you have taken that
name, and used it to describe the acts you find most foul, to dwell on them in
lurid detail in your laws and in your sermons.

I was still very young then. Oh, I had lived enough years to know of war, to
know of the fear that locks the throat and freezes the heart and to see my
neighbor-brothers disappear behind tribal lines and never come home. I had
lived enough years to comfort my mother after the delivery of a stillborn son,
blue and bloody, and I was not quite so innocent as to have missed the shadowed
looks of men. I was betrothed then, my sister and I both were, although such
mattered little. We were, after all, our righteous father's property. Yet we
were also our mother's joys, in those earliest days. She taught us well, with
what she knew, and whispered the secrets of womanhood in our ears, as she taught
us the laws of hospitality and grace. And she was my world: what she did was
right, what she said was right. My beloved em.

I have sometimes been told that our punishment was a result of our arrogance,
our lack of charity for the needy. And here I am today, wandering in this land
that proclaims itself, with pride, to be "under God," in the lisping voices of
your babies, a land that claims most particular blessings in song. And yet. .
.and yet. This is a land now under the veiled threat of war, and I am told by
your great righteous leaders, Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Rumsfeld, and
Reverend Falwell and Reverend Robertson and their supporters that in times of
war, one must make exceptions. In times of war, it has become acceptable to
this land to arrest people on suspicion and hold them without bond, without
attorneys, without contact to the outside world, and secretly try them or deport
them. And thus has it ever been. For too many times, someone had sheltered a
houseguest and watched in horror as he turned spy or thief. Too many times, in
leaning over to give assistance to those on the street, a seeming cripple
suddenly brandished a knife.

Our mother taught us not to be reduced by such evil. We ever kept a full table
and invited guests to join us (is this what sealed our fate, this desire to
nurture on the part of my mother?). To break bread with someone is to seal your
fate with his forever. And yet at the same time, she told us not to blame our
neighbors for their fears, nor judge them, but to simply live quietly and
rightly ourselves.

And where was God then? Leading Uncle Abram (really my great-uncle) around the
desert and pulling a few strings so Aunt Sarai could have her baby, no matter
how old she may be. And yet. . .and yet. I have no great love for my aunt.
She was not what my mother taught me a woman could be; she knew not how to share
her heart. She arranged for that poor servant girl to bear a child for her and
sent my uncle to Hagar's bed. Then, after the act, her heart grew still colder
and she cast her out. I heard, later, that Aunt Sarai sputtered to Uncle Abram
,"I have given my maid into thy bosom, when she saw that she had conceived, I
was despised in her eyes." Who was despised? As if it were all Hagar's fault.
We heard no reports that Hagar had been rude or disobedient; just that her eyes
smoldered, sometimes fiery with heat, sometimes filmed with tears as she lay her
brown hands upon her belly. As my mother said, shaking her head, it is not for
the powerful to despise, but to have mercy in all times. But Sarai cast her
out, and Hagar wept along the road, until, she said, an Angel appeared and told
her to go home and meekly bear her mistress' orders, and one day Hagar too would
be mother to a great land.

My mother, unable to bear a son, admitted to me once that she had thought of
this, but could not, after having seen her sons dead and buried, ask even the
lowliest slave girl to have a son and give it up. But if she had, I cannot
believe she would have sent our father to the girl with no warning, or that she
would ever have removed her from the house. She would have rejoiced in it and
tried to share, her strong hands on the belly, making sure she took enough rest.
I am glad, now and then and forever, to have been a daughter loved for those
short years.

My uncle, however, is in many ways, a good man, and I have loved him well in my
time. He has done things I would not have; I shudder to the core when I think
of bound Isaac, and the God who would test his fine servant in such a way. My
mother would have shuddered in horror at such; why would one ever demand such a
thing? My uncle is a brave man, too. And I have come to understand that it was
my uncle who begged for mercy for our city. "Shall not the Judge of all the
earth do right?" He was luckier than many, perhaps, truly a favored one, not to
be punished for such questions. Perhaps this lack of chastisement for such a
question is God's only idea of mercy, so small and hard.

Mercy. When I was very young, my sister and I quarreled over a trinket. She
struck me and I pulled her hair and my mother grabbed us and whisked us apart,
throwing the little toy away. Later that night, when my sister was asleep and
our fight was almost forgotten, as such quarrels are, my mother lifted me from
my pallet and held a light above my sister as she slept, so that I could see the
soft rise and fall of her breaths, her small round face and tiny hands folded
beneath her cheeks.

"You are bigger than she is, my darling," she whispered. "You must never hurt
her, or be quick to anger, because you are older and know better. You must
always be patient, and look for a way to forgive."

Perhaps Father heard her, too, and that was why he was eager to bring in the
Angels, and ordered us about, demanding a great feast for the guests. They
seemed oddly remote, although they were beautiful as well. Too beautiful,
unreal.

And then the mob came.

The Angels were tall and thin and very cold. I waited and waited for one of
them to protest this thing my father had said, but they merely stared, their
arms folded across their chests. Only our mother wept and wailed, screaming at
my father not to do this wicked deed. "These are your children," she sobbed,
even as he shoved her to the floor. "Your children you have offered to be
degraded, and abused."

My father snarled at her to be quiet and the Angels stood by. Outside, the mob
had become quieter, listening. Then, in a halting voice, clearing his throat,
one man said, "'S'all right, ma'am. We'll not be taking the girls. We've no
call to do such wickedness." He looked at my father then, witheringly, and
several of the other men turned their heads away.

Now, I do not deny that there were men in that crowd ready to do evil. Great
evil, with little attention to who suffered. They had been at war, and that is
what war does, now and ever. Perhaps it is necessary; how else to kill a man,
except to harden one's heart past normal human judgment? There were those in
that crowd eager to punish, to hurt and defile, and had myself or my sister
fallen into their hands, it would be no different than what they might have done
to the Angels.

My father sputtered. "I, wicked? I, who am visited by angels, I whose own
uncle is God's chosen one? When you have to come to my house, and made such
demands?"

The man who had spoken before stepped forward. He looked weary and sad and his
face was battle-scarred. "You have come here, Lot, and you have claimed power
over us, and because we were grateful for your uncle's aid, we have let it pass.
But this is our city. We have been at war, a war in which you have had no sons
to lose. And you bring strangers into our city, and you value these strangers
over us, even over your own daughters, who you would see shamed before us."

My mother nodded through her tears, still bleeding from the force of my father's
blow. "He is a good man," she whispered. "Let him talk to the visitors."

"There are no good men here," my father hissed. "Foul, perverted--"

"You came here," my mother said in a low voice, her hand cupped to her cheek.
He raised his arm as if to strike her again and she recoiled, and he let his
hand fall to the side. I could hear him muttering what he thought of the men of
the mob, words I barely knew that made me blush to hear from my father's lips.

I leaned slightly forward, from where I still shuddered in the corner, my arms
around my sister. "You will not let them be hurt unjustly?" I asked the
spokesman.

He looked at me sadly. "I can try to control the men. But in these times. . ."
he sighed. "If these men are the enemy, than there is much bloodshed
unequalled."

And I was old enough to see his meaning. Such acts, when they come to pass,
have nothing to do with love or passion or creation; the body becomes merely a
tool, a weapon, and the body pressed against it is something else altogether.
It would have been another act in the war.

A young man from the edge of the crowd, who had been silent until now, began
screaming, "We need to know!" Other confused voices came from behind, and my
mother , limping and bleeding, hustled us inside, while the voices grew in
volume to a roar. My betrothed and that of my sisters were still cowered
inside. My sister and I went to the window just in time to see a huge explosion
of light that made us turn our heads and some cries of pain and horror. "What.
. ." I asked before I realized that the angels had struck them blind. I hoped
it wasn't permanent, as they limped away, holding hands or leaning on each
other's shoulders.

The Angels and my father came inside; Father barely looked at Em. Instead he
announced, "We're leaving."

I wasn't even sure exactly what he meant, but my mother wailed. "This is our
home!" she cried, "We can't just leave and hope for something better.

"No," said one of the Angels in his terrible voice; it was low in pitch yet
perfectly clear. "For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is
waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy
it."

My mother cried out again.

"Woman," the other one said. "Do not weep, it is time for your daughters to
marry."

"What?" she exclaimed.

My father nodded. "Yes, let's get on with it."

I had always imagined my wedding with the traditions; not just for me, but for
my sister Zofit and my mother as well. But instead we were quickly led in the
words, while my mother sobbed in the background. Zofit cried, too, but I could
not. And we were respectable wedded women less than a hour after being offered
to the mob.

After vows were exchanged, my father said impatiently, "We must ready what we
can, to leave at dawn."

My new husband laughed. "To leave? Lot, are you mad? This is where I live;
where I've always lived, my family's house."

Zofit's husband agreed, "Are you worried about the mob? They won't bother you
again, I'm sure. Come, you know it has been hard times lately, but there are
things we can do. And when the threat of war passes, most of the men will
return to ordinary lives."

Quiet Zofit even said, "And we could help more. Bring food to those poor babies
and widows."

Her husband said, nodding, "Yes, of course. I know the city has fallen since
the war, but surely we don't deserve to die for that!"

"The mob last night -- " I tried to explain. "They've been at war, and they've
hurt and been hurt, and they thought you were spies, and it would all begin
again."

"This is a city of depravity," said one of the Angels. "Every word you say goes
to show it more, that you do not see."

"I live here!" I cried rashly as my husband tried to calm me. "Of course I can
see. People have done bad things, but they can do good things again!"

"What is, is, what's done is done," intoned one of the Angels. He looked out
the window. The night had mostly passed. "We will leave now."

"I'm sorry, Lot, I'm not going," said my husband, who gently embraced me. "I
understand if you must go, but I will keep you here with me if you choose."

Zofit's husband nodded. He was even younger, much more boy than man, but he
bowed to my father and said that this is where he would live, with or without
Zofit.

The Angels seemed impatient, an emotion ill-suited to cold, sacrosanct
creatures. One of them even seemed a little afraid; I wonder now if he thought
God would punish him for failing to save the whole family.

"Let us go," one of the Angels said. "Lot, your wife, and your daughters,
married or no. And hurry!"

Yet even my father hesitated a moment, and the Angels grabbed us each roughly by
the hand and began to run, dragging us behind. Zofit and I could not have
protested or escaped; the grip was too firm. Our husbands seemed to understand;
there was no reproach in their eyes as they watched us go.

They dragged us far from the city gates, to where God would speak to my father.
We were told to wait a few steps away; the Lord had nothing to say to us.

"Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain;
escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed," I heard him say. My mother was
still weeping and short of breath from the run, and Zofit was trying to comfort
her. When we heard this, however, she wept even harder. "Not even to say good-
bye? It's hateful," she sobbed, with a bitterness I had never heard in her
voice before. Soon mine would become the same.

For as you may know, my mother did look back, just a glance over her shoulder
while running. To this day I am not sure if after glancing back she stopped to
stare in horror, or if it merely seemed like this because the punishment was
meted out so quickly. But of all a sudden, she was gone.

And I was so alone.


To this day, I am not sure why I did what I did. My body was still spotted with
burns from the brimstone God had rained down; smoke still filled my throat and
nostrils and stung my eyes. While running, struggling to breathe, I had bitten
my lip too hard, and blood filled my mouth as well. Father was determined to
stay away from a city, which I cannot blame him for, even though that was all he
had wanted before. After all, no matter what we did, it would be no promise.
How could there be promises ever again?

I lay on the cold cave floor, my younger sister hovered over me, trying to tend
my burns with cloths dipped in cool water. Her face was still streaked with
tears and soot as she tended me and eventually lay down beside me. Our father
sat in the corner, mumbling to himself.

And I began to think it. I thought of my mother, dead, lost, as a mere token to
God. Punished forever for who she was -- a woman who could not turn her back on
any troubled soul, a woman who kept house and hearth faithfully and wanted only
a moment to say good-bye. I thought of my father, offering my sister and me as
toys to appease the crowd, thought of us torn between multiple men, strange
sweaty hands over my thighs and breasts, where no hands but my own had ever
been. I thought of the Angels, cold and hot together, and how they had made me
feel.

We had wine that we had brought with us when we left Zoar and came to the
mountains, still shell-shocked and filthy. My hands trembled as I opened a jug
and sipped, the wine tasting sour to my smoke-stained lips. But I was so cold,
and I felt the familiar warmth settle down into my stomach. Perhaps then I
should have realized another fire was burning, burning within me for all time
now. My body was strange to me as if I could see myself move and not know why.
I whispered in my baby sister's ear "Come, let us make our father drink wine,
and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father." Oh,
forgive me, Zofit! Forgive me, Em! I don't know what I thought. Perhaps I was
thinking of you, Em, and all the dead sons, and Sarai and Hagar. Perhaps I
really did want to bring a son in the world in your name. Or possibly, as I am
shamed to admit, I wanted my father to feel some kind of suffering or fear, the
way Zofit and I felt in the hall as he bargained for our rape. I don't know.
Perhaps they were right about us, that we are a city out of control, mad-driven
by lust. Were a city. Now ashes.

Or perhaps I wanted, for a moment, to play the judge, to be the one to punish.
After all, who was in the cave but us? Did not my father bear some
responsibility when he did not recognize me, only grabbed and groaned and did
not notice when I had gone? This is your most righteous man, Judge of all the
Earth? Tricked by the mere slip of a girl he had so eagerly bargained away for
a stranger? The more fool he, and the more fool you.

As women do, I disappeared after I had born my son. I thought then to die. But
for whatever reason, God has not made it thus. Whether it is a blessing or a
curse I do not know. God's self-chosen now speak of hell and fire lustily, with
the same lurid eagerness I felt in the destruction of my city. In a people
denied other passions, this is perhaps inevitable, as is the satisfaction taken
in the idea of such punishments. Yet for me there has been no such end.

Instead I have drifted, and watched my city and my people burn a thousand times.
Men charging into the Holy Land, proclaiming a crusade in God's name while they
raped and destroyed. Christian soldiers marching onward, giving blankets
infected with dread disease to a native, different people. Execution by a
sudden jolt of inner fire, as the body quivers and smolders and threatens to
become enflamed. The camps where so many millions burned in ovens, while people
learned to breathe the air filled with perpetual smoke of their neighbor's
flesh. Mushroom shaped clouds over a far-off city, spreading not only death by
flame to the skin, but setting off fires inside of people, burning their bodies
from the inside out, over hours or even months. A city in a land long
accustomed to safety suddenly brought to its knees, again in flame. And I am
always there.

I wonder, perhaps, if my uncle's words have come back to haunt his God. "Shall
not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Perhaps there is a corner in which
even He must wonder about his actions. If He created us, if He is our Father,
how could he ever set himself to such destruction? How could he be worse than a
man at war, who may suffer ever after from the memory of seeing another man die
under his hand? Could our sins, no matter what they may have been, truly been
worse than the one who does such a deed?

I have sometimes been told about "free will." Where was ours? Could He not
have given us time, or guidance, or any kind of love? Why did He have nothing
to offer but fire? Why was He so impatient to see us dead?

And I think that this may be why he has left me to wander, because He dares not
bring me to His face, even for a moment, to see the condemnation in my eyes.
For He has done great wrong. And He must know it.